Serenity supplants stress at Wolf Creek Winery well before any corks are popped or wine glasses are filled.
Just five minutes from downtown Akron, the winery seems worlds away. And that’s exactly how its owners, Farm Bureau members Andy and Deanna Troutman, like it.
Surrounded by 600 to 800 acres of wilderness preserve on the southwest edge of the continental divide, Wolf Creek’s seemingly remote location actually has a million people within a half-hour drive, sitting just 25 miles from downtown Cleveland.
Grape growing and wine-making is a passion that has fueled Andy ever since he planted his first vines as a 4-H youth at age 10. Given to him by a viticulture (the science of grapes) professor at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, he still maintains the vines.
While Andy worked as a manager for Wolf Creek in the mid-1990s, he and Deanna planted their own vineyard near his hometown of Wooster. Later, the couple found themselves in a position to purchase the Winery at Wolf Creek and began their dual winery venture. But this is much more than a business.
Many of the winery’s customers are inexperienced when it comes to appreciating wine, which is why the Troutmans try to make their wine-tasting experience as unintimidating as possible. “(The relaxed atmosphere) is sort of ingrained in our culture and is one of the keys to our success over the years,” Andy said.
Mixed in with the tongue-tying European wine varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Vignola, some will find Wolf Creek’s less dialect-daunting bottles such as White Lies, Sweet Revenge or Space Cowboy a welcome relief. Adhered to each bottle is one of the Troutmans’ custom and sometimes humorous labels.
“We also try to get our staff to educate people as much as possible as far as to what they are tasting and some of the things that they would pick up on when they are smelling the wine,” Deanna said.
While not a full-service restaurant, patrons are invited to bring their own food or purchase cheese and crackers while taking a seat in the tasting room or on the sprawling wooden deck. Both offer a view that stretches across rows of grapevines before rolling down a lush valley to the Barberton Reservoir. Live music embodying the tranquil surroundings fills the air twice weekly.
Producing 25,000 to 30,000 gallons of wine on 12 cultivated acres, Wolf Creek gives visitors plenty to experience. Eight different varieties of grapes are hand-harvested annually.
Tours lead groups to a window where participants can view the wine-making process and a room reserved for the future production of cheese from the Troutmans’ small herd of goats. When not in production, a flat-screen television shows the entire process.
Still a farm
“When families want to bring their kids somewhere and have a good afternoon, they can come out here and bring food and have a glass of wine, but they can also see different aspects of farming,” Andy said, noting the couple’s passion to provide an agricultural destination. “Most people don’t know what a grapevine looks like. Same with the goats – many people think they are sheep.”
For that very reason, the Troutmans give their customers freedom to roam about the land at their leisure. On any given day, patrons may be found strolling down the valley, wine in hand, stopping to pet the grazing goats on the way to the edge of the reservoir. Others choose to traverse the grapevines, inspecting the origin of their favorite vintage.
“I think it’s an eye-opener for many because sometimes when you get that finished product you don’t realize what all goes into it,” Deanna said.
The Troutmans said even with all the wine sampling and live music, they still want their customers to realize that at the end of the day, they have visited a farm.
“I never thought I would be a farmer, or that I was cut from that type of cloth,” Andy said.
Despite his thoughts, the Troutmans have turned out to be quite the “Outstanding Young Farm Couple,” as recognized by the Ohio Farm Bureau in 2007. As participants in Farm Bureau’s Young Professionals program, the couple has experienced invaluable opportunities. The Outstanding Young Farmer award recognizes individuals or couples age 35 or younger for their accomplishments in their farming operations and their leadership in the agricultural community.
In applying for their award, they took a look back from where they had come, evaluated their operation and focused on future goals. At the national young farmer competition, they discussed common issues with producers from around the country and took advantage of networking opportunities.
“If you’re looking to expand your operation, business and perspectives, then I think a contest like this really opens a lot of doors and creates opportunities,” Andy said. “It’s priceless.” He said to be recognized by his farming peers is probably one of the greatest compliments he’s ever received.
Andy said he thinks young farmers are important to the future, which is why he and Deanna are proud to be raising their own future young farmers. “How special is it to get up in the morning and have a herd of goats out your front door or to harvest some spinach and have that with eggs we produced and cheese and wine we made?” Andy said. “It all came from our little farm here and to be able to allow our children to grow up and have those experiences … is truly invaluable.”
While the couple serves as spokespersons for future generations, it’s a voice from the past that guides them. “My grandmother told me once that to truly be successful, you have to do something you like,” Andy said.
By that standard, this couple should continue to produce a fine vintage no matter what the crop.
Where to Find
The Winery at Wolf Creek
2637 South Cleveland-Massillon Road
Norton, OH 44203
330-666-9285 / 800-436-0426
Web site: wineryatwolfcreek.com
The late fall and winter months are far from being a down time at the Troutmans’ wineries. Mother Nature sometimes cooperates enough to enable them to make ice wine. To produce ice wine, grapes must remain on the vine until they become frozen for a 24- to 36-hour period. As grapes dry out on the vine, the sugar content increases. Each grape retains a tiny amount of juice that, when frozen solid, results in pockets of super concentrated sugar. The Troutmans may be found handpicking grapes on a chilly 15- to 17-degree winter day in order to produce the unique and concentrated juice that is twice as sweet as normal grape juice. “There’s a lot of risk in making it, because the weather doesn’t cooperate every year,” Andy Troutman said. “It results in little bottles with big price tags, but they really do compete on a global scale with the best ice wines of Germany, Canada or just about anywhere on the globe.”